Chattanooga State Announces Rescheduled ROME Cookoff

November 1, 2021 | Betty A. Proctor | Internal Press Release

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When Chattanooga State Community College opened the Michael P. Hennen Hospitality and Culinary Center six years ago, it introduced students to the delectable world of culinary arts where they learn to hone their skills by preparing, cooking, presenting and serving a variety of foods. Being receptive to new challenges led to establishing the first Chattanooga State Cookoff scheduled for November 4, featuring the culinary talents of students in the ROME in Culinary Program.

ROME (Real Opportunities for Mentoring Experiences) in Culinary, a Tennessee Board of Regents-funded project (TBR), offers neurodiverse students the opportunity to audit culinary classes while being mentored by neurotypical culinary students. “Neurodiverse students are not typical in how they think and interact, while neurotypical means those who think and interact typically,” explained Dr. Kristi Strode, director, Center for Access and Disability Services.

Dr. Strode went on to explain that she came across an an article in a Lumina Foundation publication about a culinary program for those with intellectual disabilities. Once she shared the idea with Chef Matthew Williamson, MPH culinary arts program director, they applied for and were awarded a TBR Student Engagement, Retention, and Success (SERS) grant to pilot this new mentoring project at the College.  

As the students acclimate to college life, the mentors and mentees learn from each other while learning valuable culinary skills. “After the mentees have four audited classes, they will receive a skills report card that will show potential future employers what has been mastered,” added Strode. “It is believed that the structured and purposeful friendships that will develop in this mentoring experience will allow mentees and mentors to develop deeper roots within the college.”

“The ROME in Culinary Program was inspired by the dream of Anna Frierson, a neurodiverse student, through our work with her for the past four semesters,” said Chef Williamson. “Her interest and participation in the culinary arts program paired with her dream to make all things possible, encouraged us to seek greater opportunities for the neurodiverse.”

Although there may be other similar programs elsewhere, ROME and the program itself belongs to Chattanooga State. “The greater goal is recognizing that all people can learn without limits here,” said Strode. “As a caring and inclusive community, marketable skills will be learned, but the structured friendship through mentoring and the ability for the mentors to be a part of our community is great, not only for them, but for everyone at Chattanooga State.” Expanding this model within other areas of the college is a distinct possibility.

Join ROME in Culinary students on Thursday, November 4 from 12-1 p.m. for this exciting first cookoff event. ROME participants will partner up with mentors to serve free hors d’oeuvres and refreshments during the free event from 12 to 1 p.m. on Chattanooga State’s main campus, 4501 Amnicola Highway. The event will be held in the Center for Business, Industry & Health building, first floor, Michael P. Hennen Culinary Center dining room.